Ship's Biscuit

Also known as hardtack, the biscuits were a vital part of a ship’s provisions in the days of long and arduous voyages without many opportunities to restock food supplies. Made of flour, salt, and water, they were baked up to four times and left to harden and dry, to remove all moisture and ensure longevity. They were usually softened before eating. Hardtack was guaranteed to outlast any voyage, and its only enemies were rats, weevils, and seawater.

This biscuit has its history written on it: it is from the HMS Galatea in 1869. A significant ship and date – the Galatea was captained by the Duke of Edinburgh, Alfred, Queen Victoria’s second son, on the first royal visit to far flung parts of the Empire, as part of a world tour begun in 1867.

His arrival created huge excitement up and down the land, with enticing treats organised for the prince: race meetings, banquets, pig hunts, balls, picnics, and pigeon (kereru) and pūkeko shoots.

Royal visits were more extensive then – he visited three times in 1869 and 1870, taking in Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, and Dunedin. On his last visit, he penetrated the interior as far as Rotorua, where he met with Māori chiefs. He finally departed in January 1871.

The biscuit was donated to the Masterton Museum by a Mrs Boyes, who acquired it from the ship while it was in Nelson. We can only speculate on how she came to have such a souvenir, as that part of the story has not been recorded on the biscuit, but the Galatea was opened to the public while in port, so an opportunity may well have arisen.

Ship's biscuit (hard tack), G. Wilkie & Co., Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, biscuit, ink

A large ship's biscuit with handwritten inscription to commemorate His Royal Highness Prince Alfred visiting Australaisia in April 1869. Inscribed in black ink around the edge: "From H.M.S. Galatea at Nelson NZ / April / 1869 / Captain H.R.H. Prince Alfred." Impressed into surface of the biscuit "WILKIE / SYDNEY".  Inscribed in black ink on verso "Presented by / Mrs. Boyes"

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Ship's biscuit
Ship's biscuit (hard tack), G. Wilkie & Co., Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, biscuit, ink

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